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ACT Scores: The Skinny on the ACT Writing Test

By Peterson's Staff updated on Thursday, March 20, 2014

If you're making plans to take your standardized college entrance exams, make sure you've checked out what to expect! For instance, did you know that the ACT includes a hand-written section? Even if you already know about it, you might not be aware that the ACT Writing Test is currently optional, as long as the schools you're sending your ACT scores to don't require it.

However, even if it's not required, you may want to take it anyway -- if you’re a good writer, it could be the perfect addition to your enrollment application, and a little ACT prep will help you score well. For some general ACT prep, check out the free ACT practice test available here at Peterson's. For more information on the ACT Writing Test, read on.

ACT help: Your assignment, should you choose to accept it

The Writing Test is a 30-minute addition to standard ACT testing with a pretty straightforward format. After being provided paper to record your answer, you’ll be given a written prompt introducing your topic. The prompt will lay out differing views on the topic and ask you to either support one of those viewpoints or to provide a different angle of your own.

It’s important that whichever route you choose to go, your essay provides reasons for your opinion, as well as information or examples that support it. Scoring is based on your ability to express your point of view in a focused, organized, and logical manner. Any ACT test prep plan would let you know that -- since you have a limited time to write your response -- you should take a few minutes to organize your thoughts. (Perhaps jot down short notes or a brief outline.) Then start writing away! Form your thoughts clearly and pause between sentences or paragraphs to ensure that your writing is focused and flowing in a sensible way.

Stick to a tried-and-true design (introduction, body, and conclusion), but don’t go overboard -- this isn’t a 10-page research paper. It’s more important to develop the essay well than to try to make it as long as possible.

ACT scores: How the test is scored

The skills that you need to master the essay are concepts taught in high school English and composition classes. If you’ve been paying attention instead of nodding off in class, you should have everything you need to know to successfully complete this task! Supplementing this with ACT prep will make it that much easier to score well.

Your final product gets scored by real people, not a computer. How do they qualify? These folks aren’t random people off the street, but rather ACT-certified readers whose scoring performance is constantly monitored via ongoing training and accuracy outcomes. Two readers will rate your essay based on your effective use of writing skills and expression.

If their scores differ by more than one point, a third reader will also review your test. Your essay will be given a score ranging from 1 (the lowest) to 6. Each reader’s scores are added and your overall essay score will range between 2 and 12. When you receive your results you’ll see an essay sub score, as well as a scaled score between 1 and 36, which combines your Writing and English results.

ACT testing: The bottom line

Overall, the Writing test is just a brief addition to the ACT that may or may not be required by your college of choice. Whether or not you choose to take this portion of the test, boning up on your writing skills will provide a solid base for success in your future college exams.

You'll need to know if you're going to take the writing section at the time you register for the ACT. If you are, request the ACT Plus Writing Test.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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